Israeli Masorti responsum on sofrot

Been meaning to write about this since 2009…one of my colleagues in Israel asked the Masorti movement for their official position on lady scribes. Their response is here.

It’s in Hebrew, so I’m posting a summary of the main points:

* The Gemara and many major halakhic decisors say it’s a problem for women to write sifrei Torah, tefillin, and mezuzot.

* The Tur, the Rif, and the Rosh all say it’s a problem for women to write tefillin.
* But they don’t explicitly say it’s a problem for women to write Torahs.
* Neither does Masechet Sofrim.
* In fact Masechet Sofrim says if you may read Torah for the congregation, you may write.
* And our women may read.
* Therefore they may write Torahs.

Furthermore:

* People who are exempt from laying tefillin are invalid to write tefillin.
* Women are exempt from tefillin because it’s connected to talmud Torah.
* From which most people say women are exempt.
* But there are opinions saying otherwise, and also in our day, in Israel, we have ruled that women are not exempt from talmud Torah. The world has changed.
* So they are not exempt from laying tefillin either.

* And therefore they are totally kosher to write anything. QED.

I don’t buy this entirely.

Part of the halakhic philosophy of the Masorti movement is that if there’s a minority opinion, you can go with it, even if that opinion was ultimately rejected by Judaism as it developed. It’s totes fine to resurrect an opinion if it says something you want it to say. Another philosophical point is that “times have changed” is an absolutely valid reason for discarding something you don’t like. Once you have those two points on board, the above is sound reasoning and the answer unexceptionable – but getting those points on board takes a bit of work, and I don’t find them wholly convincing as I understand them. (I could also be missing the nuances. Feel free to explain in comments, if so.)

“Times have changed” is also part of contemporary Orthodoxy’s philosophy, but you have to work harder at using it as a justification for anything. “It’s not completely unprecedented, even though the majority eventually went against it,” likewise – if you can show that someone sometime did this thing, you’re much more justified in wanting to do it yourself, but that of itself isn’t an argument because you still have to deal with your inheritance – all the people who did something different subsequently. You can’t just write them off. This is why the above is desperately inadequate from an Orthodox perspective, and echoes in some form my own discomfort with it.

So if I don’t buy the above, but nonetheless I write sta”m – how do I justify it? I hear you asking, and I’m ‘fraid I’m not going to answer right now. I’m not so into the piece-by-piece incorporation of women into Jewish ritual life just at the moment. I could spend ages and ages coming up with contorted justifications for everything, but it’s an activity I find distasteful at present, so you’ll have to figure it out yourselves from the stuff on my site. Oh, and anyway, this was just a post about the Masorti thing, not a presentation of Jen’s Philosophy of Halakah. So yes – this is what the Masorti position in Israel is. Jolly jolly.


One Comment

  1. Fascinated in Frankfurt-on-Hudson
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 20:51 | Permalink

    I think a good thing to add to this discussion is the issue of writing megillot. The image at the top left of this blog says it all – “Esther wrote …” One of the most striking things about looking through the sources on this is that many of the laws related to how a kosher megillah must be written are derived from verses in the megillah saying what Esther herself did. At the very least it would seem odd to say we learn the laws of writing a kosher megillah from what Esther did, but women can’t write a kosher megillah.

    I know, this is already posted on this site, in the piece by Ross Singer (http://www.hasoferet.com/ritual/singer.shtml), but just thought it was worth linking to, and there is some overlap in laws of writing a megillah and laws of writing a sefer Torah, no?

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